Should the Government Promote “Traditional” Families?

Insofar as it is ‘traditional’ to organize families around a legal marriage of two consenting adults, recognized by the state, and securing for them certain rights, I do believe the government has an interest in promoting ‘traditional’ families.

But I do not believe the state has a compelling interest in denying marriage to same-sex couples. That violates the basic principles of the citizenship system, particularly equality before the law but also the notions of individual liberty and secular pluralism.

The government’s interest in promoting stable families (as I argued elsewhere) lies in preserving the opportunity for individuals to pool and direct their leisure time as they see fit. The freedom to make decisions about leisure time, to exercise liberty in the ‘pursuit of happiness,’ is the foundation of participatory democracy. When the government interferes with how we choose to exercise such liberty or who may exercise such liberty, it must do so with a compelling reason. Religious values, however ecumenical or well-intentioned, do not rise to this standard. Neither do general and improvable fears about the decaying social order. Nor is “tradition” a sufficient reason for denying equal access to government benefits.

To deny individuals their liberty in pursuing happiness as they see fit is a potential step toward majority tyranny. Those who seek to exclude same-sex couples from the opportunity of marriage are directly challenging the notion that all citizens are equal. We have sadly allowed this inequality for too long in our nation. Fortunately, we have now reached a point where the Constitution, in the hands of the Supreme Court, may once again serve as a tool for extending the basic promises of citizenship to all. I hope and pray that our justices will rise to the occasion.


(For the other posts in this sequence on family, see here and here.)

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